3,000 prisoners on hunger strike in Turkey, says rights group

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The number of prisoners who have joined a hunger strike to press Turkish authorities to end the “isolation” in jail of Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Öcalan has increased to close to 3,000, a human rights group said on Tuesday, The Associated Press reported.

Human Rights Association head Öztürk Türkdoğan told The Associated Press that a total of 2,983 people in 90 prisons across Turkey are refusing food in protest of jail conditions for Öcalan, whose family members and lawyers have reportedly been denied visits.

Pro-Kurdish legislator Leyla Güven launched the hunger strike from prison in November. She has since been released and is continuing the strike at home. Two former pro-Kurdish legislators are among the thousands of prisoners who have joined Güven’s strike over the following months.

Hunger strikers in Turkey traditionally refuse food but take vitamins and salt and sugar solutions, which help prolong life.

Turkdogan said 15 of the hunger strikers are now also refusing vitamins.

Öcalan, leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), has been serving a life prison term on İmrali Island, near İstanbul, since 1999. His group is considered a terrorist organization by Turkey and its Western allies.

Turkdogan’s group says Öcalan has not seen his lawyers since 2011, and pro-Kurdish legislators last visited him in 2015. His brother was allowed a half-hour visit on Jan. 12.

Öcalan has in the past conveyed messages to his group through his lawyers.

Hundreds of Kurdish inmates ended a similar hunger strike in 2012, heeding a call by Öcalan.

Turkish authorities have not commented publicly on the hunger strikes.

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